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Opioid Overdose Spike Triggers ‘Red Alert’ In Jackson County

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
The Drug Enforcement Administration says heroin is often cut with other materials, so it's difficult for users to know how much heroin they have used.

Jackson County has issued a health warning after several people overdosed on opioids in a single day.

There were eight reported opioid overdoses in Jackson County on December 20, and an additional person may have died from an overdose. The county usually averages one or two overdoses a week.

Jackson County Public Health issued a “red alert” to warn people that a potentially fatal batch of heroin may be to blame.

“Right now we’re really suspecting we have a more potent batch of heroin that is going through our community, which may mean that some of that could be contaminated with fentanyl as well,” says Tanya Phillips of Jackson County Public Health.

Credit Oregon Health Authority
Oregon Health Authority
The Oregon Health Authority illustrates overdose hospitalizations by county in 2017.

Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid that is sometimes mixed into heroin to increase its euphoric effect.

Phillips says additional overdoses could have gone unreported this month because they were treated with an antidote such as Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray. The treatment has become more widely available in recent years. Anyone can purchase it directly from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Still, Phillips says people should always call 9-1-1 following an opioid overdose.

“Because if someone needs more naloxone or Narcan, or if they have other health consequences, we want to make sure that that individual is getting the help that they need through our medical system,” Phillips says.

Jackson County started tracking overdoses in spring 2018 after a string of 10 fatal opioid overdoses. Phillips says this is the first time the county has issued a “red alert” since then. The Oregon Health Authority also tracks opioid overdosesacross the state.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.